THE STATUS OF WOMEN
Women in Zaire in the 1990s have not attained a
full equality with men. Although the Mobutu regime has
service to the important role of women in society and
women enjoy some legal rights (e.g., the right to own
the right to participate in the economic and political
custom and legal constraints still limit their
The inferiority of women was embedded in the indigenous
system and reemphasized in the colonial era. The
status of African women in urban areas was low. Adult
legitimate urban dwellers if they were wives, widows, or
Otherwise they were presumed to be femmes libres
women) and were taxed as income-earning prostitutes,
were or not. From 1939 to 1943, over 30 percent of adult
women in Stanleyville (now Kisangani) were so registered.
they paid constituted the second largest source of tax
Opportunities for wage labor jobs and professional
remained rare even after independence. For example, in
there were no women in law, medicine, or government in
nineteen years after independence. Moreover, educational
opportunities for girls remained constricted compared with
By the 1990s, women had made strides in the
and a growing number of women now work in the professions,
government service, the military, and the universities.
remain underrepresented in the formal work force,
higher-level jobs, and generally earn less than their male
counterparts in the same jobs.
In addition, certain laws clearly state that women are
subservient to men. A married woman must have her
permission to open a bank account, accept a job, obtain a
commercial license, or rent or sell real estate. Article
45 of the
civil code specifies that the husband has rights to his
goods, even if their marriage contract states that each
separately owns his or her own goods.
Adapting to this situation, urban women have exploited
commercial opportunities in the informal economy, outside
control. They generally conduct business without bank
without accounting records, and without reporting all of
commerce. Anthropologist Janet MacGaffey's study of
Kisangani showed that 28 percent of the city's large
owners not dependent on political connections were women;
women specialized in long-distance distribution and retail
semi-wholesale trade. About 21 percent of the retail
stores in the
commercial and administrative zone of the city were
women dominated the market trade.
Rural women find fewer such strategies available.
the bulk of agricultural work, firewood gathering, water
and child care, they have generally seen an increase in
burdens as the economy has deteriorated. In Zaire's
highlands, conditions have grown particularly severe. The
statepromoted expansion of cash-crop hectarage for export,
of coffee and quinine, has reduced the amount and quality
available for peasant household food-crop production.
owned by the politico-commercial and new commercial elites
increasingly expanded onto communal lands, displacing
crops with cash crops. And within peasant households,
of the allocation of household land for export and food
led to greater use of land for export crops and the
women's access to land and food crops.
Even when male producers turn to cultivating food
household does not necessarily profit nutritionally. Food
for household consumption is frequently sold for cash,
to pay for daily necessities, clothes, school fees, taxes,
on. Higher-priced and nutritionally superior food crops
sorghum are frequently sold by producers who eat only
cheaper, less nutritious food crops such as cassava.
malnutrition among children has resulted.
Among groups where women have more power, the situation
severe. Among the Lemba, for example, women not only have
in determining what is grown but also in what is consumed.
country where the most widespread pattern is for the men
served the best food first, with the remainder going to
children, Lemba women traditionally set aside choice food
sauces for their own and their children's consumption
feeding the men their food. Their nutritional status and
their children is correspondingly better.
Rural women have arguably borne the brunt of state
In some cases, women have banded together to resist the
tolls and taxes imposed on them. Political scientist
Newbury studied a group of Tembo women growers of cassava
peanuts west of Lac Kivu who successfully protested
imposition of excessive collectivity taxes and market
on them when they went to market. The local chief was
a sympathetic local Catholic church, which provided a
meetings and assistance in letter writing, was helpful, as
ethnic homogeneity of the group. Although they could not
a woman for election to the local council, they did
voting for males friendly to their position. The newly
councillors hastened to suspend the taxes and the tolls.
Not all women's organizations have been equally
Kisangani the Association of Women Merchants (Association
Femmes Commerçantes--Afco) failed to advance the interests
assembled women merchants. The group instead turned into a
for class interests, namely those of the middle-class
MacGaffey clearly saw the case as one of the triumph of
solidarity over gender solidarity.
A continuing challenge for women has been the limited
integration of women's experience and perspectives into
development initiatives of Western development agencies.
Schoepf has documented, little effort has been made to
agricultural extension networks for women, who have
contribute the overwhelming bulk of agricultural labor. In
addition, project production goals rarely have taken into
the effect of the withdrawal of women's time from current
production and household work to meet the goals of the new
programs. Development in such a context often has meant a
backward rather than a step forward from the perspective
women being "developed."
Data as of December 1993